Barstool Sports Can’t Play NIL Ball with University of Louisville Athletes

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The NCAA has begrudgingly accepted the fact that college athletes have the right to monetize themselves. Until California passed a law two years ago that guaranteed state athletes could sell their images, the NCAA took in millions by controlling that right. California’s efforts opened the floodgates for Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) agreements to appear, and Kentucky joined the list as of July 1. The University of Louisville (UL) is playing ball with the new rules, unless it has to do with Barstool Sports.

University of Louisville Puts Barstool on the Sidelines

According to a memo sent to all UL student-athletes this week, Assistant Athletic Directors (AD) Alyssa Murphy and Matt Banker don’t want athletes to make any type of NIL agreement with Barstool. They assert that the high-profile sports betting operator doesn’t comply with school policies or with the “criteria outlined in the Kentucky Governor’s Executive Order.” The memo, at face value, falls short of ordering students not to seek a Barstool partnership, with Murphy and Banker stating that they “are advising all student-athletes…” However, to many college students, an advisory may come across as an order.

It isn’t clear where Barstool falls short in compliance. Kentucky is still trailing behind most states in the legalization of sports betting, but it loves horse racing.  However, if the lack of love for sports betting and casinos were the reason, UL would have included other sportsbooks on the list, not just Barstool. Neither Barstool nor its outspoken founder, Dave Portnoy, have weighed in on the advisory. Penn National Gaming, which purchased 36% of Barstool in February of last year, has been silent, as well.  

NIL Deals Picking Up in Kentucky

UL rival University of Kentucky (UK) reportedly already has a number of student-athletes linked to Barstool. Among these are Will Levis, Justin Rigg and Nik Scalzo of the Wildcats’ football team, as well as Brennan Canada of the school’s women’s basketball team. According to Tyler Thompson of Kentucky Sports Radio, UK’s NIL rules prohibit students from interacting with “lotteries, casinos, sports wagering facilities or online equivalents.” Apparently, however, the guidelines, much like NFL refereeing, are subject to broad interpretation.

UL is definitely not opposed to NIL or the students’ rights to earn money off their images. The school’s AD, Vince Tyra, recognizes that some athletes will be able to command top-dollar for who they are and admits that some already are. Tyra points to Hailey Van Lith as an example, with sports technology firm OpenDorse estimating that the women’s basketball star could earn as much as $965,000 a year just by throwing out an occasional sponsor endorsement to her more than 720,000 Instagram followers.

There’s also the school’s quarterback, Malik Cunningham. He has a NIL agreement with Dreamfield, a company that promotes student-athletes in the public domain, and is paid at least $300 an hour to make appearances. That’s according to information provided by Sports Illustrated, which also indicates that two students – soccer standout Macoumba Ba and Jordan Watkins of the football team – have already signed deals with Barstool. It isn’t clear, based on the new memo from this week, if they are expected to give up their deals.

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